Home > Running Down a Dream > Chapter 4 - Harnessing Up

Running Down a Dream
Bob Carson takes new owners from sales ring to turnout
written by Bob Carson

Chapter 4 - Harnessing Up
'Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress'
By The Hollies, 1972

Photo Source: Wikipedia

January 12, 2011

Horsemen and Horsewomen,

Sorry to say you missed the first week that Mariko and Fantail were at their new home in Vienna, Ohio. You are not alone. Most owners and fans of harness racing never get to see the early stages of training a harness racehorse, and that’s too bad; it’s fascinating and important.

Next year, should any of you decide to buy a yearling, I suggest you schedule some time to visit the farm and watch the process of “breaking” a yearling (breaking, in the horse world, means early training).

Put yourself in the hoofs of Mariko and Fantail.  They were born on a farm. They spent their early life by the side of their mother, then they were weaned (taken away) from their mom and grew up in a herd of young horses. One day they are spiffed up, maybe have some video taken, and a few days later they are place on a truck and taken to a massive arena where they are marched to a stage where we bid on them. Then it is back on another truck and into a stall at the Wollam Farm.

Our horses have no idea they are here to learn to race. They do not know the people who will drive and handle them each day.  They are alone and they have a lot to learn.  The trainer and staff will be the teachers. The teachers I have been associated with, Elbert Queesenbury, Dee Hotton and Marty Wollam, have all been terrific. Each had slightly different styles, but they all posses the qualities that make a good teacher: patience, respect and confidence.

One of the first lessons is getting dressed for work. If you look at this photo, you will see one of the girls in her daily duds. Harness horses wear two main articles; the harness and the bridle (later they will accessorize with a variety of options).  Take a look at this photo:

The harness is basically a big belt around the midsection with connections in the front and back that keep it from sliding forward or backward. The purpose of the harness is to attach the cart or buggy to the horse.

The bridle is headgear where the key component is the bit, a piece of steel that rests in the mouth of the horse. The bit is attached to long lines that the driver uses to steer the horse.

Mariko and Fantail have never worn a harness or a bridle. The equipment can terrify horses.  I once watched a trainer very, very gently place a harness on a horse for the first time, and then ever so carefully, loosely, connect the dangling buckle; suddenly the horse went wild, bucking, flipping over, kicking, and tearing crossties out of the wall.  It was quite a scene. It took the trainer almost a week of practice until the horse accepted the harness. Then he had to introduce the bridle and bit.

At any rate, Marty reports that Fantail and Mariko learned to get dressed without incident. Fantail was a bit feisty. Mariko was very professional.

So now they know what to wear. Their harnesses and bridles will be kept clean and hung just outside their stall gate. Next, they need to learn what to do. This weekend, Doug and Mary will make the trip out to the farm to watch them start their journey to becoming racehorses.

I always send the trainer an e-mail saying that we will be visiting at nine in the morning. Marty is very good about scheduling the horses so that we get to see our horses as they learn and work. The staff, his daughter Lori, son-in-law Al Manke, son Miles, wife Patty, Melissa Mueller…everyone is friendly and welcoming.


Thinking about jumping into horse ownership?

E-mail owners@ustrotting.com and we will get you more information to get started in the racing game. Click here to share this story with a friend.



Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

Bob Carson
Hoof Beats Magazine About the Author
Bob Carson's award-winning freelance writing has appeared in more than two dozen national publications. He is a steady contributor to Trot Magazine, The United States Trotting Association and Timeline Magazine. After more than 200 magazine articles and stories, his first novel, The Voyage of Mess (humor) was released in 2009. In 2005 he produced the documentary film, Touching Home (Minor League Baseball). In 2006 he received the Hervey Award for Journalistic Excellence and Best of Ohio Fiction awards. He has published Minor Trips (Minor League Baseball) since 1991. Bob Carson has owned harness horses for more than a decade, including a stint as a weekend trainer. He lives in Strongsville, Ohio, with his wife, Sue, and daughter, Katie.
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